Noah woke up early, looking up in an unfamiliar morning light. Wakeup time at the clinic had been seven-thirty am and by the end of his stay there, Noah had been getting up even earlier. So he wasn’t surprised to glance at his watch and see it was six forty-five.
What did surprise him was the fact that he was still in Andrew’s bed. His heart picked up as he caught Andrew’s light scent on the pillows and for a second, he was twenty-two again, half-expecting to glance over and see Andrew losing terribly at a video game he claimed to like. But even then, Noah had known Andrew only played it because Noah liked it. Something ached in Noah’s chest and he sat up, looking around the room.
Andrew was still asleep on the daybed, only the top of his head visible over a thick comforter. He didn’t look like he was getting up anytime soon, but what should Noah do? He wasn’t going back to sleep now. Should he go upstairs and get out of everyone’s way? Or maybe he should stay here where they could keep an eye on him?
That familiar uncertainty was back in the pit of his stomach. Trying to shake it off, he stood up, stretched, and started walking toward the door.
Any decision was made for him as soon as he swung the door open. Mia stepped back, startled, her little hand raised toward the doorknob. She’d clearly been about to open the door.
“Hi, sweetie,” Noah said.
She looked up at him with wide eyes, looking as scared as he currently felt. Noah hesitated and hated himself for hesitating.
“Do you need something?”
“Oh, good morning.”
Olivia stepped into the room from the kitchen, wearing a plaid bathrobe and holding a cup of coffee. “You’re up early,” she said.
Noah laughed awkwardly, still standing in the doorway. “Yeah, I’m still on clinic time apparently.”
“Come have some coffee.”
She turned back toward the kitchen. With a last glance back at Andrew, who hadn’t moved, Noah followed behind her with Mia padding along next to him. When he got into the kitchen, Olivia was pouring a mug of coffee.
“Black still?” she asked.
His throat was tight. “Um, yeah, thanks.”
She handed the mug to him and he took a sip. The bitter coffee was better than the ones he’d had every morning at the clinic. How long had it been since they’d been here in her kitchen together? He couldn’t pinpoint a time where it had stopped.
“How are you doing?” Olivia asked.
Olivia looked skeptical, and Noah tried to make his body calm down. Only a year ago this had been the most normal thing. Now he was so nervous that his hands were shaking. Hopefully she wouldn’t notice.
Olivia noticed immediately. “You’re shaking,” she said.
His stomach dropped and he set the coffee on the counter, keeping a hand wrapped around the steaming mug. “It’s nothing,” he said automatically.
Noah picked up his mug and brought it to his lips, trying to force his hand to stay steady. It didn’t fool her for a second and he realized with dawning horror that it looked like withdrawal tremors.
“I’m clean, I swear,” he said quickly, setting the coffee back down as it sloshed over the edges. “This isn’t…I detoxed weeks ago, it’s not…”
She put a hand over his and he shut his mouth. But he was still shaking.
“I know you know this, but I need to say it anyway,” Olivia started, clearly trying to get him to meet her eye. “I know you’ve fucked up. You know you’ve fucked up. And everything isn’t fixed. But I’m here for you. You get what I’m saying?”
He nodded, blinking rapidly. “I’m on your side,” she said. “I want you to be successful, I’m not looking to, like, catch you or something. So relax, okay?”
They sat silently for a moment while Noah tried to get himself under control. Mia had already wandered out of the room, bored with the adults.
“So would you rather have some time to yourself or some company?” Olivia asked, breaking through his thoughts.
“What? Um, I guess I need a shower. And I should go see Gray Lady and let her know I’m still alive. How has she been for you, by the way?”
“Fat and happy,” Olivia said with a smile. “I hope you don’t mind, but I brought Mia up with me to feed her and they’re best friends now.”
Tears stung his eyes. “I don’t mind at all.”
“Go take a shower,” Olivia said. “I actually bought you a couple towels while I was at the store the other day, so they’re sitting on your bed.”
Noah wanted to hug her, but he wasn’t sure if that was too forward now. She’d embraced him the second he got in the car yesterday, but that didn’t mean he had the right to initiate anything. So instead he just smiled and ducked out of the room, making his way up to his own apartment.
When he opened the door, the first thing he saw was the worn out recliner by the window. For a split second, he could swear he saw his father sitting there, just like in that dream he’d had how many weeks ago. Noah blinked rapidly and shook his head, trying to will the thought of his father away. There were no barriers between him and the grief now and he knew he wasn’t ready to face it, even after all this time.
A small, soft body rubbed against his legs, pulling his attention away from the chair. Gray Lady purred, and he reached down to stroke her back. After spending twenty minutes regaining Gray Lady’s affection, Noah walked into his bedroom. It looked cleaner than it had when he left. In fact, his entire apartment did.
Olivia must have cleaned too. He was sorely tempted to go into his freezer and see if that bottle of whiskey was still in there. Would she have done a sweep of his apartment before he got home?
But if he went in and saw the half-full bottle in there, what would stop him from drinking it? His willpower?
Noah was better off not looking.
He went into his dresser and pulled out some jeans and a t-shirt. As he went to lay them out on his bed, he noticed it was made, the bedspread neatly pulled over the mattress in a way that Noah never remembered to do on his own. Olivia had definitely cleaned in here. He was grateful, but that didn’t cover the sense of shame that was there too. Everything was familiar, but felt distant. Like there was a pane of glass between him and his home.
It was so empty in here. Almost sterile. Had he ever been happy here?
Was he happy now?
He found the towels Olivia had mentioned and walked over to the bathroom. It was clean in here too, smelling of lemon. And there was soap and shampoo already in the shower.
God, he didn’t deserve her.
The hot water felt amazing and he just stood under it for a long time, letting it run over his body. It scorched his skin, but loosened the muscles in his back that had been tense for weeks.
Fifteen minutes later he got out of the shower and went into his bedroom. His phone was lying on the bed next to the t-shirt and jeans. A text glowed up at him.
Noah didn’t expect the emotions that flooded through him at that moment. Everything they’d talked about in meetings, in therapy, over the past few weeks, suddenly felt more real. He had a second chance. He shook his head, wiped his eyes, and texted her back. Then he got dressed and hurried back downstairs.
Andrew was awake when Noah got back downstairs. His hair was askew and he was nursing a cup of tea at the kitchen table. “Morning,” Noah said as he walked into the room.
Andrew looked up and turned red. “Um, morning,” he said. “I um, thought you left.”
“Liv told me to come back for breakfast.”
“Sorry, I would have…”
“What, you would have gotten dressed?” Olivia teased from the stove. “Gotten out of your dressing gown?”
Andrew rolled his eyes. “You’re making pancakes, so I won’t reply to that.”
Noah wasn’t about to say that this image of the normally put together Andrew with messy hair and glasses, sitting in a bathrobe was one of the cutest things he’d ever seen. Nor was he going to say that he was so grateful to be in this room with them right now that he was on the verge of tears again.
Andrew turned to Noah. “How are you doing?” he asked.
Andrew took a sip of his tea. “Thanks for letting me have your bed,” Noah said.
Andrew choked, and Olivia laughed. “You were out cold,” Andrew said once he could breathe again. “I’m not mean enough to kick you out.”
“Were you guys watching a movie or something?” Olivia asked, walking over with a plate of pancakes.
“Just some cooking shows,” Andrew replied. “Noah seemed rather keen on an outdoor kitchen.”
Noah shrugged. “I saw it on one of the shows and it seemed like something you’d like,” he told Olivia.
“He fell asleep talking about it, then woke up some time around two still detailing what it would take to put one in the backyard,” Andrew added.
Olivia laughed affectionately. “I wouldn’t say no to one of those,” she said. “What are you up to today?”
“Working,” Andrew said, taking some pancakes. “We’re going to try another ritual, but it has to line up with the moon this month so today it’ll prep in between the post-Halloween crowds.”
He looked at Noah. “What about you?”
Noah took a pancake, but his appetite wasn’t there. “I’m going to a couple meetings,” he said.
“No,” Noah replied. “Ware and New Braintree.”
“Are you all set to get there? I’d offer to drive, but nothing changed while you were gone.”
“I, um, I have my truck,” Noah replied. “But thank you.”
Noah looked over at Olivia, who smiled and took his hand. “I’m happy you’re home,” she said.
Noah looked down and realized she had added two more pancakes to his plate. It smelled amazing, but his stomach was too knotted up to eat more than a couple bites.